Military Review

The civil war in Austria. February 1934 Vienna met with street fighting

12 February 1934 in the Austrian city of Linz, in the Austrian capital Vienna, and then in a number of other cities in the country, an anti-government uprising began, which history as the last attempt of the Austrian anti-fascists to prevent final approval of the ultra-right regime in the prewar Austria. On the other hand, the alignment of forces in pre-war Austria and the peculiarities of its political structure had a serious influence on the post-war political panorama in the country and in many ways predetermined the development of the domestic policy of the Austrian state for decades to come.

Austria between the two world wars

After the defeat in the First World War, Austria-Hungary ceased to exist - at that time one of the largest states in Europe, uniting the German, Hungarian, Slavic population. Part of the land of the former Austro-Hungary became part of Poland, part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as Yugoslavia was called at the beginning of its history. Finally, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria proper became independent states. However, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire questioned the very meaning of the existence of Austria as an independent national state. If Czechs with Slovaks and Hungarians received long-awaited sovereignty, Croats and Slovenes united with other southern Slavs, and Poles reunited with their fellow tribesmen from the Russian and German parts of Poland, the Austrian Germans found themselves in a strange situation. After all, in the neighborhood with them was a single German state - Germany, whose population spoke the same language as the Austrians. It would seem that the only reasonable way for the further development of Austria was to be unification with Germany. However, the "Anschluss" was directly banned by the Entente countries that won the First World War. The British, French, Italians did not want to strengthen Germany by the annexation of Austria and the transformation of the country into a new major power in Central Europe. Therefore, although the Austrians themselves, in the 1918 year, at the congress of the Provisional National Assembly held on October 30 in Vienna, called for the country's accession to Germany, their desire was not accepted by other European powers. Austria began the path of an independent state. A year later, 10 September, 1919, Austria signed the Saint-Germain peace treaty. One of its main points was the ban on the unification of Austria with Germany.

Nevertheless, although Austria began the path of an independent state, the main political and social problems that the country faced in the interwar period were in many ways reminiscent of the problems of Germany’s neighbor and blood and language. In particular, the Austrians, like the Germans, felt quite depressed - no one liked to be a loser, much less to turn from a large power into a small and weak state that did not even have access to the sea. Secondly, a large number of young and able-bodied men returned from the front, but many of them could not find work, some were overwhelmed with revanchist ambitions. Among the front-line soldiers, radical ideologies were widely adopted. As in Germany, in Austria 1920's. the development of two opposite flanks of political life was proceeding at a high speed. On the right flank, nationalist and conservative organizations gained strength and strengthened political influence. For many of them, neighboring Italy became a model, where the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini came to power.

The left flank of the Austrian policy was also made up of active and numerous social democrats, among whom were not only supporters of moderate parliamentary tendencies, but also political radicals, who in their ideological views and practical activities approached the communists of various directions. Both the right and the left had “systemic” wings - parliamentary parties, and radical groups focused more on the “streets and squares” policy.

Heimver and Austrian Right

The right flank of the Austrian policy was represented primarily by the Catholic Christian Social Party. Her ideological views were close to the Italian fascists and the Spanish phalangists, however, in general, she positioned herself as a right-wing conservative party, advocating religious values, the estate state and against the communist threat. The Christian socialists actually controlled Heimwehr, the Union for the Defense of the Motherland.

The civil war in Austria. February 1934 Vienna met with street fighting

This paramilitary organization, originally staffed by former non-commissioned officers and soldiers demobilized from the Austrian army after the end of the First World War, was a nationalist and anti-communist force, more than ten times as large as the Austrian regular army. The members of the heymvera had good military training, many of them had real combat experience, as they went through the fronts of the First World War. The government of the Christian socialists used the heymver as a “non-state army” - the soldiers of the Union for the Defense of the Motherland participated in dispersing workers' demonstrations, maintaining public order, and guarding the state border. At first, people of different political views were in the heym, although all of them could be combined as “right” and “ultra-right”.

Closer to 1930 The ideological crystallization of the heimver began, which was connected with the struggle in the Austrian ultra-right movement of the pro-German and pro-Italian tendencies. Heimver, who received support from the Italian duce Benito Mussolini with 1927, initially began to focus on Italy. The ideology that went down in history as “Austro-fascism” was adopted. It was based on the need for the political sovereignty of Austria as a national state and for the approval of the estate-corporate model of the organization of political governance in the country. As Mussolini provided support to the heymwer, the organization was in favor of recognizing Tyrol as Italian territory and was on the side of Italy in the Italian-German relations 1920, the beginning of 1930.

The Germanophile wing of the Austrian ultra-right movement was represented by national socialists. Already in 1918, the Austrian German Workers 'Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) was created, which by the end of the same year was renamed the German National Socialist Workers' Party (Deutsche National-sozialistische Arbeiterpartei). By 1930, the Austrian NSDAP consisted of 87 thousand people. The leadership of the party was oriented toward Hitler’s Germany and, in matters of strategic policy, was almost openly subordinate to the German NSDAP, since it favored immediate reunification with the Germans. This was the main ideological divergence between the Austrian National Socialists and the Austro-Fascists. The latter, as we noted above, held to the point of view on the need to preserve the political sovereignty of Austria. This was beneficial to the Italians, who saw in Austria a buffer between Italy and Germany.

Schutzbund and the Austrian Left

The largest political party of the left spectrum in the 1920-e - early 1930-ies. was the Social Democratic Party of Austria. It was created in 1889 year and was originally called the Social Democratic Labor Party of Austria. By the beginning of the twentieth century. Austrian Social Democrats had strong party organizations in Upper and Lower Austria, Styria, as well as in Bohemia and Moravia - in the territory of the future Czechoslovakia.
Under the Social Democratic Party of Austria, a separate militarized organization was created in 1923 - the “Schutzbund” - the Republican Defense Union (Republikanische Schutzbund). In fact, the Schutzbund was the left "clone" of the heymwer. The Republican Defense Union consisted of a large number of former officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who participated in the First World War, workers from trade union organizations. As in the heymver, there was no ideological unity in the Shutsbund - its militants adhered to both relatively moderate social democratic views and radical communist views. Naturally, there were more radicals in Schutzbund than in the Social Democratic Party of Austria itself, since the very specifics of a militarized military organization largely determined the deviation of a significant part of its members to left-wing radicalism.

Since the beginning of the 1920's. between Schutzbund and Heimver, clashes repeatedly erupted, which were a street reflection of the parliamentary confrontation between the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists. The biggest clashes took place in July 1927. The launch of the Social Democrats ’attack on Shattendorf Workhouse in January 1927, launched by right-wing militants, was the pretext for the Social Democrats’ action. Heimverovtsy staged a firing, which resulted in the death of a participant in the First World War and a small eight-year-old boy. Naturally, what happened, especially considering the characteristics of the victims (a war invalid and a small child), stirred up the left part of Austrian society. After the criminal court of the Austrian capital acquitted the heim militants who participated in the attack on the Workers' House, the Social Democrats revolted. The fighters of the Shutsbund set fire to the Palace of Justice, set up a clash with police units and heymver fighters. The most fierce fighting unfolded in Vienna on Friday 15 July. Their victims were 89 people. Unlike Germany 1920's, the Austrian Social Democrats were not able to obtain significant positions in the management of the Austrian state and were all the time in parliamentary opposition. Meanwhile, the Austrian authorities swiftly "reigned."

Dolphus and Austro-fascism

13 March 1932. As a result of the next parliamentary elections, the leader of the Christian Social Party Engelbert Dolfus (1892-1934) became the Austrian Chancellor. The thirty-nine-year-old Dolphus was a very remarkable person, even externally - he was only 148 tall, see, for which he was called “Millimeter”, hinting at the similarity of the figures with the famous Austro-Hungarian Chancellor Metternich. In 1920-s. Dolfus actively participated in the activities of the farmers 'movement in Austria, was the secretary of the farmers' union, and in 1927 founded the Agricultural Chamber of Lower Austria. In 1931, he headed the Austrian railway network, and later became Minister of Agriculture in the Austrian government.

According to his political convictions, Dolfus was a right-wing conservative and a supporter of Austria’s political independence. Unlike many other Austrian right, Dolfus did not support the idea of ​​the Anschluss, that is, unification with Germany, and sought to obtain guarantees for the independence of the Austrian state, relying on cooperation with fascist Italy. Dolphus considered the political structure of Italy to be very acceptable for the Austrian state, having developed a concept called “Austro-fascism”. Naturally, the dictatorship of Dolphus was far from being to the liking of the Austrian Social Democrats and representatives of other left-wing organizations. Moreover, the tightening of the political regime in the country was accompanied by a significant economic crisis, which had a negative impact on the welfare of the majority of Austrians.

The sympathies of the population towards the Social Democrats were growing, and this very much alarmed Dolfus and his associates. The Austrian right took the course of curtailing parliamentary democracy. 4 March 1933, after the parliamentary crisis caused by the discussion of the law on minimum wage, Chancellor Engelbert Dolfus dissolved parliament. Three days later, 7 in March 1933, the martial law was reestablished, according to which mass marches and demonstrations were prohibited, press censorship was introduced. These changes in the Austrian political system actually meant a coup d'état, which was supported by the country's right-wing organizations and the Catholic Church. Dolfus proclaimed the religious values ​​of one of the fundamental foundations of Austrian statehood, which also contributed to the growth of support for the regime by the Catholic clergy. 31 March 1933 Mr. Dolphus has announced a ban on the activities of Schutzbund - the Republican Defense Union controlled by Social Democrats. Then Dolphus canceled elections at all levels, and 20 in May announced the creation of the Fatherland Front, which included right-wing forces that supported the Dolphus regime, but did not share the national-socialist position on the need to unite with Germany.

At the same time, Dolphus proceeded to further action against the political opponents of the regime. The Communist and National Socialist parties were banned. And if with the ban of the communists everything was clear - the right-wing radicals hated the left and always sought to limit or completely destroy their activities in Austria, the National Socialist Party was banned for other reasons. Dolfus was, as you know, an opponent of unification with Germany and therefore saw in the activities of the National Socialists, who were in fact subordinate to the German NSDAP, a substantial and direct threat to their regime. Since the toughening of the regime inevitably meant the need for political repression, construction of concentration camps began in Austria, in which representatives of the left opposition and even the right-wing supporters of the Anschluss were placed.

February 12 Rise

At the same time, the Social Democratic Party and trade union organizations were not banned and continued their activities, although they lost their armed support in the form of Schutzbund. However, the leaders of the Social Democrats were well aware of the precariousness of their position - naturally, after the end of the repressions against the communists and other left-wing radicals, Dolphus had to switch to the moderate left. In the end, this is what happened.

12 February 1934 Austrian police set up a search at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party in Linz, which resulted in a clash between the forces of law and order and militants of left-wing groups who had long been carrying out plans for an uprising against the "Austro-fascist regime." The first to protest against the government police was the Schutzbund detachment of the city of Linz, commanded by Richard Bernaszek. He decided to revolt at his own risk and risk, despite the apparent unwillingness of a moderate part of the Social Democratic leaders to cross the border of what is permitted.

Following Linz, riots spread to other cities in Austria. The greatest passions were observed in Vienna, Streyr, St. Pölten, Weiz, Eggenberg-Graz, Kapfenberg, Bruck an der Mure, Ebensee and Wörgl. In Eggenberg, a suburb of Graz, an uprising against the Austrian government also led the local Schutzbund, in which anarchists were a significant part. The fighters of the Schutsbund were entrenched in the building of the consumer society, which they held for about twelve hours. A company of Alpine shooters, arriving at the building, was firing artillery shells. In the end, the defenders of the building surrendered. However, the next day, February 13, the remains of the Schutzbund took over the Wagner-Biro metal factory. But here too the resistance of the rebels was suppressed with the help of artillery fire. Government troops did not stand on ceremony with the rebels and fired "to defeat", not sparing neither people nor the urban infrastructure. The harsh actions of the government forces were due to the demands of Dolphus to put an end to the “Bolshevik insurrection” as soon as possible.

In Vienna, activists of the Social Democratic Party and other left-wing organizations began to build barricades in the proletarian districts of the Austrian capital. The workers' quarters of Vienna - Karl-Marx-Hof, Zandleitenhof, Schlingerhof - became the stronghold of the left. Here, in the newly built municipal buildings, mainly workers and low-paid employees lived. The police attempted to expel the left-wing militants from the workers' districts, but ran into fierce resistance. The militants of ultra-right organizations rushed to help the police.

From the construction of barricades, events in Vienna and other Austrian cities quickly shifted to armed clashes between the left on the one hand, the police and the ultra-right on the other. Thus began the six-day civil war in Austria. February 13, seeing the impossibility of suppressing the uprising by the police and the far right, the Austrian government brought regular army units to the city. Unlike the police and the ultra-right, the army units were armed with artillery and its use against the rebels played a fatal role for the latter. By the evening of February 13, the main barricades of the left in Vienna were torn down by artillery fire.

Fights for Floridsdorf

Great difficulty caused only the capture of the Vienna district Floridsdorf. He was defended by about 800 workers' vigilantes, against which the government threw troops and police with a total of five thousand. However, it was in this area that government forces faced the most intense resistance. This is also because the fire brigade, commanded by Georg Weisel, acted here on the side of the insurgent left.

Georg Weisel, 34, was a chemist by profession and, by conviction, left-handed. Back in 1927, he headed the local Schutzbund, but since he held relatively moderate positions, he opposed the use of violent methods by the organization. Only in 1933, after the official ban of Schutzbund and the Communist Party, did Veisel realize that in the changed conditions only underground activities made sense. George commanded a fire brigade in the Floridsdorf area, and 13 in February, when barricades in the Austrian capital were in full swing, he took the side of the rebels. The fire brigade was highly disciplined and was a combat-ready unit, which caused great difficulties in suppressing its performance by the government forces. Although there were only sixty fighters in the squad, she became a real "special forces" of the rebels. It was the people of Veisel who were the first to meet the government units on the barrids of Floridsdorf. The soldiers of Veysel fired upon government troops from carefully hidden and fortified machine-gun nests.

Seeing that the resistance of the defenders of Floridsdorf is very difficult to break, and delaying the operation can lead to unpredictable consequences, since the success of the rebels will set an example to other areas of Vienna, the Austrian military command decided to use poisonous substances in Floridsdorf. With the help of suffocating gases, government troops managed to overcome the resistance of some defenders of the barricades. Soldiers and gendarmes stabbed bayonets with gas poisoned rebels. But these methods did not help the government forces - even after the gas attack, the army units were only able to push back the defenders of Floridsdorf. On the night from 13 to 14 February, government forces brought artillery shells into the area and began indiscriminate shelling of residential areas. However, there were well-aimed snipers on the part of the rebels, who held back the onslaught of the Austrian government troops, shooting officers and advancing soldiers. As a result, the command had to withdraw military units that were fighting in the area and, by morning, to transfer new army units to Floridsdorf. In the morning of February 14, a re-artillery bombardment of residential areas in Floridsdorf began. But his defenders, despite the fact that they had already held for two and a half days, stubbornly defended themselves. The squads of the rebels relocated to Edlersdorf, where they launched an attack on the positions of government troops. The rebels managed to disable two armored cars of the Austrian army and capture them, using them to strengthen the barricades.

15 February, government forces continued to fire Floridsdorf. Residential buildings were engulfed in fire, civilians, women and children were transported through underground communications to other parts of the city. The insurgents, meanwhile, strengthened on the third, last line of defense - on the territory of the gas plant. The government forces also could not take it by storm. Therefore, February 16 by the morning the Austrian military command led to the barricades of the prisoners chained in shackles. The latter carried placards calling for the gas plant to be cleared and for the prisoners to regret, otherwise the Austrian troops would continue shelling and kill unarmed people. The surviving defenders of Floridsdorf decided not to expose the captured comrades and leave the position, but not to surrender, since their fate in this case would have been predetermined.

In combat, the warriors retreated to the state border with Czechoslovakia. Having armed with three machine guns, carbines and hand grenades, the remnants of the defenders of Floridsdorf left Vienna and moved through the woods towards Czechoslovakia. Having overcome 70 kilometers and having managed to escape from the police chase, the rebels arrived on the territory of the neighboring state, where they threw into the river weapon. The Czechoslovak government took the emigrants from neighboring Austria, but it was Floridsdorf’s defenders who placed them under special control. Seventy fighters who came on foot, through the woods, to Czechoslovakia, were placed in a working house under the control of the local police. Subsequently, from Czechoslovakia, many participants in the February uprising moved to the Soviet Union and even took part in the May Day parade on Red Square in Moscow. Commander of the fire brigade, George Weisel 15 February was executed. All in all, Vienna alone killed at least 200 fighters of leftist organizations, and the total number of dead Austrians on both sides amounted to 1600 people (according to other sources, up to 12 thousands killed and 4 thousands injured became victims of the five-day civil war in Austria).

Dolphus End and Anschluss

Arrested as a result of the suppression of the uprising, activists of the left-wing organizations of the authorities were placed in the Wellersdorf concentration camp. The inevitable result of the suppression of the uprising was the prohibition of the Social Democratic Party and its trade union organizations. Part of the leadership of the party hid in Czechoslovakia, other leaders were arrested. Many leftist activists were shot or hanged by military field tribunals. It is noteworthy that the first to hang the unfortunate man - the moronic Peter Strauss, who was accused of participating in arson. The execution of a sick person has already revealed a series of reprisals against serious people - leaders of trade unions, the Social Democratic Party, communists and anarchists.

Having won the confrontation with the left, Dolphus proceeded to further strengthen his regime. 30 April and 1 May 1934 was the last meeting of the Austrian parliament, which adopted the May Constitution. It emphasized that Austria was becoming a class and clerical state, and a new slogan in exchange for the repealed “Austria is a democratic republic. The right belongs to the people ”was adopted the slogan“ In the name of God Almighty, who grants all rights, the Austrian people received this constitution for their Christian German union state, built on the estate principle ”.

However, the establishment of the dictatorship of Dolphus, who managed to neutralize the left opposition, was not accepted by any other influential political force in the country - the National Socialists, who had close ties with the German NSDAP. As you know, the National Socialists were in favor of unification with Germany and were not going to put up with the Halfous's concept of building a national Austrian state. In July, 1934 they attempted a coup d'état. To this end, many Austrian national socialists, who had previously emigrated or expelled from the country, left Germany for Austria. The Nazi movement was led by the well-known in the future leaders of the Nazi Party, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Arthur Zeiss-Inquart and Odilo Globocnik. 25 July 1934 was about 150 SS fighters 89-th standard, dressed in military uniform of the Austrian regular army, broke into the building of the Austrian government.

Dolphus, who was trying to escape from the federal office, was wounded in the throat. He was shot at by Otto Planett, the detachment commander. He was demanded from the wounded Dolfus to immediately transfer power to the Nazis, more precisely, to their representative A. Rintelen (this figure in the Christian Social Party sympathized with the Nazis). However, Dolphus, despite being seriously wounded, found the courage to refuse to accept the demands of the coup. Then the SS men threw the Austrian Chancellor to bleed. Dolphus soon died from blood loss. Meanwhile, ally Dolfusa Benito Mussolini advanced four Italian divisions in the direction of Austria, because he had an agreement with her and was not going to give the country to the supporters of the Anschluss.

Thus, in 1934, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were in fact on the verge of war over Austria. Berlin, which had not yet gained sufficient strength at that time, did not need a war with Italy, especially since the German Führer nevertheless hoped, sooner or later, to lure the Italian duce to his side. Hitler and his Austrian comrades had to abandon this time the plans for the immediate accession of Austria. The Austrian government-controlled military units commanded by Austrian Justice Minister Kurt von Schuschnigg managed to disperse the SS and restore political order. Rintelen, whom the Nazis intended to declare a new chancellor, was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of treason (after four years he was released, but he no longer participated in the political life of Austria). The new leader of Austria was Kurt von Schuschnigg, who continued the Halfus' policy to further strengthen the sovereign Austrian state.

The party “Fatherland Front” was headed by Prince Ernst Rüdiger von Staremberg, who formerly commanded a heymver, and after Schuschnigg came to power, he occupied the post of vice-chancellor of Austria. On July 27, he delivered a keynote speech commemorating Dolphus killed two days ago. In this speech, Staramberg declared Austria the main bastion of Europe in the fight against the Bolshevik threat and “criminal demagogic nationalism”, which clearly understood the Nazi NSDAP and its Austrian supporters. According to Starhemberg, the ideal of the further development of the Austrian statehood could in the future be the restoration of the Habsburg monarchy. But plans to create a strong and independent Austria did not come true. The country was still in a state of deep economic crisis. In 1936, the Starhemberg resigned as leader of the Fatherland Front, losing to Shushnig.

Nevertheless, the coming to power of Kurt von Schuschnigg for four years managed to delay Austria’s loss of political independence. The first step towards the Anschluss of Austria was the development of friendly relations between Germany and Italy. Gradually, Mussolini was inclined to think that Austria would have to sacrifice for the sake of friendship with Hitler. In 1936, he refused further support for Austrian sovereignty. This contributed to the growth of the political influence of the Nazi party in Austria. Schuschnigg was forced to pardon those arrested after the suppression of the Nazi 1934 putsch of the Nazis, including Seyss-Inquart, who were released from prison. 12 February 1938. Schuschnigg and Hitler signed an agreement according to which the Nazi party received the right to free political activity in Austria and to take public office. The consequences of this agreement were not long in coming - in the same month the leader of the Austrian Nazis, Arthur Zeiss-Inquart, was appointed Minister of the Interior and Security of the Austrian state. The amnesty to the Nazis dramatically strengthened the position of the Austrian NSDAP. By 1938, its number reached 150 thousand people. 11 March 1938 The Austrian Nazis set about capturing government buildings, and on March 12, military units and formations of the Wehrmacht and SS, totaling about 1938 thousand troops, entered the territory of the Austrian state. 200 March 13 The Nazi-formed government of Arthur Thess-Inquart announced a long-awaited unification with Germany. Austria ceased to exist as an independent state.

The Austrian civil war and Dolphus's avstrofashism played a decisive role in the further development of Austrian statehood. In fact, it was during the reign of Dolphus that the foundations of the post-imperial Austrian national identity were laid. Indeed, unlike the supporters of unification with Germany, the “Austro-Fascists” asserted the necessity of the existence of Austria as an independent state and emphasized the uniqueness of the Austrian political choice. Austria, as a state, is catholic and more cultural than Germany, according to supporters of Halfhill, deserved the right to political independence. It is significant that after the end of the Second World War, when the independence of Austria was restored, the pre-war political parties of Austria were actually revived. The Austrian People’s Party inherited the ideology and political principles of the Christian Social Party, and the Social Democratic and Communist movement was revived. As for the participants in the February 1934 uprising, those who were lucky enough to survive survived in the anti-fascist movement, and then in the activities of post-war Austrian left-wing and center-left organizations. The failed February 1934 revolution in Austria went down in history as one of the first European attempts to resist the establishment of a fascist regime.

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  1. Robert Nevsky
    Robert Nevsky 12 February 2015 09: 46
    Glory to the Red Heroes!
  2. reality
    reality 12 February 2015 10: 04
    The failed February 1934 revolution in Austria went down in history as one of the first European attempts to oppose the establishment of a fascist regime.

    And in my opinion, some fascists tried to overthrow other fascists.
    1. ilyaros
      12 February 2015 10: 27
      Why did the Social Democrats and the Communists appear fascists? and then who are not fascists?
      1. reality
        reality 12 February 2015 10: 41
        Some prayed for Hitler, others on Mussolini. I am not strong in the legal definitions of fascism, national sociolism, etc., but here only communists can be called anti-fascists.
        1. ilyaros
          12 February 2015 11: 03
          Well, these yes, but after all, the February 34 standoff broke out between the Communists and the Social Democrats on the one hand, and the Nazis on the other. And then the fascists of Hitler and Mussolini’s persuasion were already squabbling among themselves - after the suppression of the failed anti-fascist revolution
          1. reality
            reality 12 February 2015 11: 06
            So I'm confused))
            1. artalex32010
              artalex32010 12 February 2015 22: 09
              More precisely, at first there was a confrontation between the Nazis and the Communists and Social Democrats, and then the Nazis grappled with the Nazis (National Socialists).
          2. Aleksander
            Aleksander 13 February 2015 00: 32
            Quote: ilyaros
            unfolded between communists and social democrats on the one hand, and fascists on the other

            And then ALL together (including the Communists) went to the Eastern Front, no one refused ...